Notes On A Film: Green Lantern

Pity poor Green Lantern – despite the recent successful revival by Geoff Johns, he’s always been a B-lister; now that he’s in cinemas, it seems that the entire weight of comic book movies is resting on his shoulders and he’s taking the blame for it all. All for a film that isn’t as bad as everyone seems to be saying it is, but which isn’t a good film either. The fact is that the film just sits there, not achieving the enjoyable levels of Iron Man or Thor but not sinking to the awful lows of Steel or Catwoman or Batman and Robin. There are some good bits but it never sings, it never flies (if you’ll pardon the punning metaphor).

The problem appears to be a dichotomy between the two halves of the film, and the script can’t seem to make up its mind which side it wants to favour. Favouring the Marvel Studio approach to bring the comic book characters to the silver screen, the film spends half of its time on Earth with Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) and his interaction with humans – he’s a test pilot with Ferris Aircraft who screws things up for his colleagues, he’s had former romantic interaction with Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), there’s a sub-plot involving Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins) and his scientist son Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) – but the film starts out with a voiceover explanation of the Guardians of Oa and the Green Lantern Corps, and sends Jordan out into space and to Oa receive induction from Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and training from Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), which only lasts two minutes before Sinestro (Mark Strong) steps in to make Jordan feel inadequate and want to leave the Corps. There is also the threat of Parallax, this huge entity of fear who destroys planets – why have both the small Earth-bound story of Jordan handling his fear and fighting the Parallax-infected Hector Hammond when you’ve got the prospect of the entire galaxy and thousands of alien Green Lanterns at your disposal?

I wanted the aliens and outer space – the CGI for Tomar-Re and Kilowog was impressive, and it was wonderful to see such scope in a blockbuster film, including the presence of so many different aliens and the vista of the home planet of the slightly creepy Guardians. I wanted more of the Green Lanterns fighting Parallax in space, and I wanted the development of the Sinestro–yellow ring storyline that was hinted at in the mid-credits sequence (and I have to agree with everyone that the way this was played in the film made no sense whatsoever, and ignored the character development for Sinestro in the rest of the movie). The ‘Hal has to overcome his fears to become the Green Lantern’ storyline seemed so small and minor in comparison, despite the best efforts of Reynolds, who delivers some of the comedy lines very effectively. This section could have been dealt with quickly and then we could have got more action. A prime example of the smallness hobbling the ability of the film to soar is the way that the Carol Ferris is used as the reason to have a fight between Hector Hammond and Hal Jordan – Hector’s unrequited love was really silly and rather sad to see it used as a device in the plot. This lack of logical narrative was also a problem – see this post at Topless Robot for the best snarky dissection of the storyline of the film – as if the filmmakers thought that people would understand and accept the way the narrative develops because they do the same in the comics (why exactly does Hector get telepathy and telekinesis because he’s been infected by Parallax?), and no amount of spectacle could compensate.

It’s not all awful – the actors are mostly good in their roles (Mark Strong is always good value), there are some funny lines, it’s nice to see that Carol recognises Jordan when he’s in his Green Lantern costume and mask (the CGI costume wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be based on the trailer – well, in the 2D version I saw; I’ve no idea what it looks like in 3D – but the mask never works in the film), and it’s great just to have a big blockbuster about the Green Lanterns. However, the film lacks visual flair and energy – Martin Campbell might have done good jobs on The Mask Of Zorro and Casino Royale, but he does a workman-like job here; this lack of imagination is evident in the manifesting of the Green Lantern energy through the ring, particularly the scene where Hal saves the crashing helicopter by constructing a race track to save it. This means that Green Lantern the film is a very flat experience, which is sad because I would really like to see the sequel where Hal Jordan and the Green Lanterns fight the Sinestro Corps in a great big CGI war in space.

Rating: DA

[Explanation of my updated film rating system]

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